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October 23, 1981

Acronyms and Initialisms

Author Affiliations

Los Altos, Calif

JAMA. 1981;246(17):1941. doi:10.1001/jama.1981.03320170053033

In the beginning was the word, and only much later the acronym. The word "acronym" is fairly new, made up of the same elements as "acromegaly" and "patronymic," and the examples used in dictionaries to illustrate the device tend to stir recent memory (anzac, SCUBA, snafu). With the notable exception of posh ("port outward, starboard homeward"—to keep the wealthier traveler's cabin on the cooler side through the Indian Ocean during the voyage to and from India), the phenomenon is not particularly English (Gestapo, OGPU), and there are arguments about whether "initialisms" might not be a better term; whether what linguisticians used to call "blends" and Lewis Carroll "portmanteau words" (smog, motel) are the same thing; and whether formation of acronyms or blends is a legitimate process of vocabulary development or merely a device of cutesy comics (from Ohiowa or elsewhere) or wanton neologizers dressing in fancy